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Steve Levitt and seminal thoughts

This month's Wired magazine has a short note (not yet online) on Steve Levitt, the Clark medal winning economist whose thoughtful research on offbeat topics has generated significant interest inside and outside academia.

Steve makes the following observation, not intended as advice, but one most aspiring economists should take to heart:

I have a talent for taking a big pile of data, thinking economically about it, and sometimes making conclusions come out the other end. My least productive times as an economist were when I tried to be something else. My graduate adviser once told me I needed to write more seminal papers. I spent the summer on the couch trying to think seminal thoughts. Not a single one came to me.

Moral of the story? Levitt quickly abandoned the seminal thoughts strategy and focused on questions where his skills were valuable. Do that and avoid over-reaching, and look where it can get you.